Updated: Jan 30
I wrote this LONG Facebook post last summer and I have been asked a few times to bring it out of the vault! I was so surprised at the positive response from other families that have been through very similar situations, so this one is for you super heroes!
I got back from the grocery store a while ago with this sweet boy and on the drive home I knew I had to write this post for him. He can't speak for himself so sometimes I feel I need to be that voice and I hope I get this right for him and knowing me and how I ramble, it will be long!
We take Dawson on outings a lot during "off hours" I call it. When there is fewer people, less waiting in line, and less noise. He tends to be a bull in a china shop and often doesn't know what personal space is or aware of his surroundings which can mean bumping into people or even the occasional sniff of someone...which most people don't know that it is an honor to be sniffed!:) Admittedly, sometimes we do it because there is less awkward staring and don't have to say "I'm sorry" when he whistles, claps too loud or bumps into people.
This morning we were on our "off hour" grocery store visit before 8:00 am on a Sunday-smooth sailing for an awkward free outing and happy to be getting out of the house. I was feeling so proud of Dawson and still in awe how well he is doing two weeks after his spinal fusion. He was whistling and smiling even getting into the car which I can tell must be painful for him as he still is very slow to get in. I was feeling excited for his dad to come home after being out of town for the weekend to see how far he has come in two days.
As we pulled into the handicapped spot (we have a placard) we got the first look of dismay and a head shake from a couple thinking nothing was wrong with either one of us and we shouldn't be parking there. Which by the way, I see people all the time "waiting" in those spots for someone to come out which is a whole other topic and a huge no-no. I thought "Okay Judge Judy's, if only you knew what this boy went through two weeks ago!" Still not that bothered, we went on in.
In the 30 minutes we were in the store, we got three long, lingering stares. Not "Awe look how cute they are" stares, but ones that made me so uncomfortable that it brought tears to my eyes for him as we walked out after doing our shopping. This has never happened this much in such a short period of time. I am used to the occasional looks of interest and completely understand when that happens. He is hard to miss especially at 6'3" and strikingly handsome of course!
So here is my point to this long post. I would like to give people an insight as to what times like these feel like to parents and siblings of special people. I realize most do not mean any harm and understand the looks especially from small children and that is natural. What I don't understand is how someone can give long unpleasant stares to someone who clearly can't speak up for themselves. When this happens, it feels like a stab in the heart. Like he is not a human being, but an interesting object to be gawked at and even sometimes laughed at especially by teenagers. I have even heard teens try and imitate the sounds he makes as we walk by, but it's the adults that know better that really gets to me. Most of the time I don't let it, but on days like today, it did.
My heart hurts for him because as he gets older, I am more convinced he knows EXACTLY what is going on around him. He feels happiness and joy, sadness and pain just like everyone else except he just can't verbally express it. Can you imagine what that must feel like? On the flip side, it's just as hurtful when you can tell people are deliberately avoiding eye contact at all, or quickly pull their children closer to them thinking he might hurt them or maybe to shield their eyes. I see it all the time and yes, I notice it. All parents and siblings of special people notice when that happens, and I can only hope that Dawson does not. I am not quite sure what bothers me more of the two-the stare or the obvious avoidance.
So here is what people should do! SMILE! It's ok and it feels so incredibly nice to have someone acknowledge and smile at Dawson. I have had people even say "Hi!" that don't even know him and it literally melts my heart when that happens. If your curious as to what he has, ASK ME! Trust me, I love to talk about Dawson and will gladly explain what he is all about-you would probably be sorry you asked! Even an empathetic look is totally ok and I take that as a "Wow, that must be challenging" because YES it is! It is not always roses but what part of raising any child is easy?
I am hoping this will get around and help the next time you are in a situation where you see someone with special needs. Just because they look and act different, are in a wheelchair or use canes, they are heroes in my book. They face more challenges in a day than most people face in a lifetime and do it often with a huge smile on their face and with no complaints. They love to be loved and accepted. They want friendships and to be included just like everyone else. They do NOT want to be avoided, stared or laughed at any more than you do.
So smile like you would like to be smiled at, love like you would like to be loved, and most of all accept like you would like to be accepted. ❤️
Sarah Swindell's memoir, Rounding Home, is now available here! http://bit.ly/RoundingHome